English cherry cake

This is my Ma's cake, which she used to bake when I was growing up. It's one of my favourites. However, no matter what I do, I can't prevent the cherries from sinking to the bottom - and boy, have I tried. My consolation is that my Ma told me she can never prevent it either - and I never noticed all these years!

  • 200g of glacé cherries
  • 275g of plain flour
  • 4 teaspoonsful of baking powder
  • 75g of ground almonds
  • 225g of unsalted butter
  • 225g of caster sugar
  • ½ a teaspoon of almond extract
  • 4 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  2. Take the butter out of the fridge to soften.
  3. Grease and line a round cake tin that's 20-ish cm across (or 8 inches), with a loose bottom.
  4. Cut the cherries into quarters, then rinse and pat them dry.
  5. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
  6. Take out a little of the (now self-raising) flour and toss the cherry pieces in the flour. In theory this will help them rise in the cake. I suggest attaching strings to the cherries and suspending them from the roof of the oven.
  7. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  8. Beat in the eggs one by one, followed by the almond extract.
  9. Stir in the flour and almonds, gently to keep the air in the batter.
  10. Fold in the cherries, again, gently.
  11. Bake for one and a half to two hours, until golden brown on top, and pulling away slightly at the edges.

Bacon, cheese and potato bake

I've made this a couple of times, and it's always popular. It works well as a (very hearty) side dish, or cold the next day like a cheesy, bacony Spanish omelette. Originally this recipe was called "Grape Pickers' Potatoes" (it's a Hugh Stanley-Fearnley-Wittingstalliferous recipe) and I can imagine it would certainly set you up after a day of hard labour.

  • 750g of potatoes
  • 40g of butter
  • 300g of smoked streaky bacon rashers
  • 1 teaspoonful of rosemary
  • 150g of Gruyère cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them very thinly.
  3. Grate the cheese into a bowl.
  4. Chop the rosemary finely.
  5. Use some of the butter to grease an ovenproof dish (I used my round metal pie dish, which is 24cm wide).
  6. Stretch the bacon with the back of a knife so that it won't shrink when it cooks.
  7. Line the dish with the slices of bacon, covering the bottom and sides, and leaving the upper third or so of each rasher to hang over the sides. I did mine in a sort of spiderweb from the centre.
  8. Place a layer of potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, then scatter on some of the rosemary and cheese.
  9. Repeat the layers three times (or however many it takes), finishing with a layer of potatoes.
  10. Cover the top with the overhanging bacon and dot with the remaining butter.
  11. Cover with a tight, double layer of foil.
  12. Bake for an hour and a quarter, by which time the potatoes should be cooked and tender.
    The recipe doesn't mention this, but my dish was full of fatty water at this point, which I poured off. My Ma suggests to take off the cover at this point, turn up the heat and bake for quarter of an hour longer to crisp up the bacon on top.
  13. Remove the dish from the oven and leave to stand for ten minutes.
  14. Gently loosen the bacon from the sides of the dish and turn out onto a plate to serve.

Mushroom and cheese scone cobbler

The finished result, fresh from the oven
This is a very hearty, stick-to-your-ribs autumnal dish, perfect if you want to give your vegetarian friends a good warming feast, but want to accommodate carnivores at the same meal: it feels like a meat dish, even though it isn't. The recipe is from The Guardian, and its drawback is that it involves a lot of fussy transferring from pan to pan, which is unfortunate. It serves six people a little frugally.

  • 3 tablespoonfuls of olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 large knob of butter
  • 750g of mushrooms (I used a combination of common mushrooms, including button ones)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 tablespoonful of thyme leaves (I used fresh from my new plant)
  • 150ml of red wine
  • 250ml of vegetable stock
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Sour cream, to serve

    (for the scone topping:)
  • 175g plain flour
  • 2¼ teaspoonfuls of baking powder
  • ½ a teaspoonful of salt
  • 75g of chilled butter
  • 1 teaspoonful of English mustard
  • 75g of mature cheddar
  • 1 large egg
  • 125ml of milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Chop the onion, carrot and celery finely.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoonful of oil in a large pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms into thick slices, but leave some little button mushrooms whole. Also, crush the garlic and chop the thyme leaves.
  5. Take another large frying pan and heat 1 tablespoonful of oil along with the knob of butter.
  6. Cook the mushrooms in this second pan in batches, stirring often. When I did this, the first batch soaked up all the butter and oil, which meant that the ensuing batches were pretty much dry-fried. But it all worked out in the end. I put the cooked batches onto a plate.
  7. Add the garlic and thyme to the last batch and fry briefly (just until you can smell the garlic cooking, but not burning). I guess this is where you should use the third tablespoonful of oil, to stop the garlic burning on the hot pan.
  8. Add the all the mushrooms (including the garlicky ones) to the other pan of vegetables.
  9. Pour the wine into the pan that the mushrooms were cooked in. Stir, and let it bubble for a few minutes. Then pour it into the other pan of mushrooms and vegetables.
  10. Pour the stock into the pan of mushrooms and vegetables. Bring to a simmer, and leave to cook while you do the scone topping.
  11. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  12. Chop the butter into little cubes and add to the bowl.
  13. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers, until you have little breadcrumbs.
  14. Grate the cheese and stir it into the crumbs along with the mustard.
  15. In another bowl, beat the egg and milk together with a fork. Then stir this into the flour mix to create a soft, sticky dough.
  16. Season the mushroom stew and pour it into a wide oven dish.
  17. Drop large spoonfuls of the scone mixture on top of the stew.
  18. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the scones are well risen and golden.
  19. Serve with the sour cream.